Are You Thinking About Boomeranging?

Boomerang employees are people who have left an organization and then been rehired at a later date. It used to be taboo. In fact, about 50% of HR professionals surveyed say their organizations had policies that prohibited rehiring former employees in the past. But over 75% of those same HR professionals say their companies are more willing to rehire boomerang employees now than ever before.

Should you consider returning to a former employer? And if you do, what can you expect? Talent Plus (the company I work for) actively recruits boomerangs. We know that talented people sometimes have opportunities for growth elsewhere that they just can’t – and shouldn’t — pass up. And when their circumstances (and ours) change, we actively recruit them back.

Kim Turnage is my co-author of the book, Managing to Make a Difference (Wiley), and she is a Talent Plus boomerang. In this post, she shares her insights on this type of career decision.

How did you decide to return to the company?

I got a call from our recruiter, Kyle Bruss, asking me if I would consider coming back. The timing and the opportunity were both right. I knew the company culture and values. Many of the same leaders were still there even though I had been away for about five years. I believed in the company’s mission and believed I could add value by coming back in a different role than the one I had left five years earlier. I consulted some people I trusted who were still working with the company and decided to make the leap. It was a great decision!

Did you try to pick up where you left off? 

I did not. I approached the role with humility and a commitment to learning. I had done some parts of the job before, but I needed a refresher. And a lot had changed, too. I assumed nothing and asked a lot of questions.

I also invested in strengthening relationships with people I knew from before and cultivating new relationships with people who had joined the company in my absence. I considered myself a newbie with some background knowledge and tried to remember that what I thought I knew from the past might not be applicable in the present.

What did you say when people asked questions about why you left and why you came back?

If anyone asked (and even sometimes when I could tell people were curious but too polite to ask) I told the truth.

  • Why I left: I had worked for the company full-time for four years then moved to working part-time from home for an additional three years after my second child was born. Some other opportunities highly aligned with my interests became available during that time, and I made the choice to leave the company in order to pursue those opportunities.
  • Why I came back: My family had moved to another city, and I was in the process of deciding what to do next when our recruiter, Kyle, called and offered me an opportunity to work remotely. This opportunity fit very well with my talents, served the needs of the company, and allowed me to do work that contributes to a greater good. It was an easy decision to come back.

How did you re-establish yourself within the company? 

I acted like I would at any new job. I did my job well and raised my hand for special projects where I could make positive contributions. I worked on establishing trust-based relationships with my manager and the members of my team. Working remotely, hundreds of miles from our company headquarters, made that process a little slower and more complicated, but my colleagues were equally committed to building those relationships. One of the key ways I built trust was by looking for opportunities help other people achieve their goals.

Was it harder or easier than you expected?

Yes. Some parts were easier and some were harder.

I knew the culture and knew some current employees who helped accelerate my ability to establish new connections with new people. I was open to learning, and several leaders invested the time to help me connect what I knew before to what I needed to know in the present to succeed.

The hardest part was less about coming back and more about the fact that I was coming back as a (really) remote worker. I had worked from home before, but in the same city as the company’s headquarters. When I boomeranged, my home was hundreds of miles away from the office and my family commitments made travel very difficult and infrequent. That distance was the source of most of the difficulties I encountered, but I was working with a company who had extensive experience with people working remotely…and with people boomeranging…and we worked through issues effectively, primarily because we started from a foundation of trust.

What advice do you have for people thinking about boomeranging?

  • First of all, consider how and why you left the company. Were you on good terms? Can you tell a true, positive story about why you left and why you want to come back?
  • Make sure you have an accurate picture of the organization as it is today. What are you hearing from the people who are recruiting you or who would make the decision about whether to run with your desire to return to the company? Have you maintained positive relationships with some other people in the company whose insights you can trust? What can they tell you about how things have changed, and how consistent are those changes with your goals and the way you want your next role to look?
  • Consider the role you’ll be coming back to. How is it similar to and different from the one you left? What knowledge and experience have you gained in your absence that will add unique value? What has changed in the interim that you will need to learn about or retool for?

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Kim Turnage for her worthwhile advice about boomeranging. As always, I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Tell Someone They Didn’t Get The Job?

This question comes up repeatedly, especially with new managers and supervisors. Few people enjoy delivering bad news, so some people try to avoid the conversation altogether, and some go too far in their attempt to soften the blow. Either of these approaches can make the situation worse for the candidate and for your organization.

You have a candidate who’s trying to find a job. This is a very important life goal for this person. The sooner they know you’re not going to make a job offer, the sooner they can focus on other opportunities. You’re not helping them by procrastinating.

There is no way around the fact that this is a disappointing message for this person to receive. There are times when the message is communicated by email or some other electronic means, and there are times when it’s appropriate to do this by phone or in person. No matter the medium, be polite, be respectful, and be professional – but say as little as possible. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t discuss the weather or last night’s game. That extends the suspense and makes it worse.

As I’m writing this, I’m visualizing a phone conversation. It might begin like this: “Hi, this is Larry Sternberg. I’m calling to let you know that we’ve decided to pursue other candidates for the position of X.” Then quit talking. You’re delivering bad news. There’s no way to change that. Most candidates will simply thank you and get off the phone. In fact, most candidates will appreciate that you called them at all. Even if you sent an email, at least you got back to them. Sadly, too many organizations don’t get back to unsuccessful candidates. The fact that you do this at all is good for your brand.

At times, a candidate wants more. He or she might ask why. Don’t respond with specifics. That takes you down the wrong road. You do not owe the candidate an answer to that question. You can simply say, “I’m not prepared to get into specifics. I know this is disappointing. I just wanted to let you know the outcome.”

Some candidates lose sight of the fact that they’re competing with others. On occasions where numerous people have applied, I’ve sometimes said, “When you apply for a job, you’re competing with everyone else who applied. On this occasion, you didn’t win the competition.” That perspective has proved helpful for many candidates.

Of course, you must convey this message in your own words, with your own style. It’s never going to be pleasant. But when you have to do it, don’t procrastinate, and don’t beat around the bush. Be polite, respectful and professional, and avoid getting into the specifics about why. If you follow these guidelines, you’ll minimize the pain for both you and the candidate.

Thanks for reading. As always I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Thinking Of Bringing Back Former Employees?

I’ve brought back several former employees, some of whom had resigned and some I asked to leave. I’ve had some successes and some failures doing this, so in this post I’ll share my perspective on the issue.

In all cases, you should start from scratch in your decision-making process. By this I mean that whatever your process is for considering a complete stranger, put this former employee through the same process. Consider everything you learned about this person during his or her employ to be extremely important information, but don’t make the mistake of relying solely on that information. You’ll learn new, important things when you go through your standard process.

No matter how much time has passed since this person worked for you, remember that the situation has changed. The more time, the greater the change. Even if very little time has passed, I assure you the situation has changed. For one thing, there are different people, internal and external, who are competing for this role. Your product mix might have changed. You might have re-organized. The person might have to report to a different supervisor. Your organization might be facing different challenges currently. You get the point. There are all kinds of changes that might well materially affect your decision.

You should also refresh your memory about why this person left. For example, a client recently re-hired a person who was very effective in his sales role, but had been fired for unethical practices about two years ago. In the interview process the candidate spoke eloquently about how he had changed. Sales were down and the client was a little desperate. I advised the client to pass, but they re-hired him. I predict they’ll end up terminating him again for similar reasons.

When the reasons for terminating someone are based on fundamental character traits like work ethic, integrity, or positivity, to name a few, DON’T re-hire the person. There is only a tiny likelihood that they’ve changed enough to make a difference. Every time you hire someone, you’re placing a bet. When you’re betting that a person’s character has changed, the odds against this bet are huge.

I saw this recently in our company. An employee left voluntarily, was gone for a few years, and inquired about whether he could return doing the same kind of work he had done previously. While he was with us, he produced an impressive amount of billable work, but he took shortcuts in his work and too often did not fulfill his commitments. He told us that he had been struggling with an addiction problem during that entire time, but now he was clean. He stated that the flaws in his previous performance would not occur. Frankly, if we could have enjoyed that level of productivity without the performance flaws, it would have been a terrific win-win solution.

We decided to give him a second chance. Sadly, it didn’t work out. We watched his work very closely, and his propensity to take shortcuts remained even though the addiction was gone. He was fully capable of doing high quality work without the shortcuts, but he simply wasn’t motivated to do so. The propensity to take shortcuts was part of his character, not part of his disease. He resigned.

To be honest, I might well make the same decision again. I believe that giving him a chance reflected well on our leadership and our culture. When a person’s previous performance was negatively affected by drugs, alcohol or similar problems, and they’re now clean and sober – that’s when I’m most likely to give that person a chance.

If a person left due to performance problems, you should ask, “What’s changed that gives us confidence the outcome will be better this time?” Becoming clean and sober is a good example. Or perhaps the person was in a very bad fit for their talent last time, and now you have a role that’s an excellent fit. Perhaps he or she had a terrible supervisor (who is now gone). Perhaps the person earned a relevant degree. These are all good reasons to give a person another chance. If you don’t have a clear answer to that question, “What’s changed?” I advise you to pass.

Before you re-hire a former employee, check their references with current employees who used to work with them. On more than one occasion, this step has caused me not to extend an offer to a former employee. I was enlightened about certain aspects of their performance, and I learned more about how the decision would be perceived. When you re-hire a former employee, you must be prepared to explain why.

One final thought. It’s often the case that while the person was with you, you tolerated certain less-than-desirable aspects of their personality or performance because in the big picture you didn’t feel like making them “deal breakers”. But now, when you’re considering re-hiring this person, those deficiencies might take on more significance. If the prospect of dealing with them again is unappealing, it’s okay to pass.

To summarize:

  1. Put this person through your standard selection process.
  2. Refresh your memory about why this person left.
  3. Check references with your current employees who used to work with this person.
  4. Ask what’s changed about the person or your organization that gives you confidence you’ll get a different outcome this time.
  5. Be prepared to explain your decision publicly.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

What Can You Do To Find More Great Candidates?

I’m very much NOT an expert in social media, so this post is not about how to make better use of social media to find great candidates. Experts on that topic are numerous and easy to find. This post is about an under-utilized, poorly utilized, old-school approach that still delivers great results.

Ask some but not all your employees who they know. Don’t ask every employee because you want to ask only your best people. It turns out that birds of a feather really do flock together. Top performers know other top performers. But here’s a secret: this approach only works if you ask for these recruiting leads through one-on-one conversations. Here are some examples of questions you can use.

  • Who do you know who has the kind of drive and positive attitude you have?
  • Who’s the best person you’ve ever worked with?
  • Who’s the best supervisor you ever had?
  • Who do you know who’s very well-organized and gets a lot done?
  • Who do you know who’s always smiling?
  • Who do you know who can sell anything to anybody?

These are just examples. The questions you ask will depend on the kind of position you’re trying to fill and the kinds of strengths necessary to excel in those positions. There are some, however, that are darned near universal. Work ethic, positive attitude and honesty come to mind.

When you’re asking these types of questions, the person you’re asking might not think of anyone right away. Please note: You’ll often need to pull this information out of someone by asking several questions in several different ways.

Even when someone gives you a name, they’ll often immediately give you several reasons why that person won’t want this job. For instance, they’re making too much money, they won’t want to move or they really like it where they are. Just respond, “That’s OK, I’ve got nothing to lose by calling them.” You don’t know when a person’s situation might change such that they’re interested in exploring opportunities with you. And even if they’re not interested they might know someone who’d be a great candidate.

Don’t talk yourself out of making a call. You have to pursue a lot of leads to close one. Recruiting is just selling in different clothing.

If you make a habit of tapping in to your best employees’ personal networks through one-on-one conversations, they’ll feel more valued, they’ll be more engaged, and you’ll find more great candidates. What’s not to like?

Thanks to Katie Rhone for suggesting this topic.

And thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg